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Lamar Refuses, Then Accepts, Pro-Healthcare Reform Ad That Blasts GOP Congressman

Lamar Advertising refused to sell a billboard to a pro-healthcare reform group that criticized U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., but then relented after the company's HQ stepped in. The reversal is just the latest in an increasingly unpredictable series of decisions from Lamar in which it has sold billboards to hookers but not atheists, briefly sold a site to critics of Israel but reversed that decision also, and has declined to sell boards to people who believe President Obama does not have a U.S. birth certificate.

The group, USAction and its state affiliate, Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, wanted to place a billboard that looks like this:

(Click to enlarge.) The text reads:

Roy Blunt has taken $556,682 in contributions from the insurance industry. Is that why he won't take our side on health care reform?
Initially, Lamar's national sales coordinator, Laura Chapman, gave this response to the proposal:
Roy Blunt, the target of this smear campaign, is a local politician and has been a strong proponent of Outdoor Advertising in Missouri for a number of years ... As much as we would always love the business, we will have to respectfully decline.
That last line about loving the business is especially ironic given that Lamar has laid off 400 people and saw its sales fall 15 percent in Q2 2009. But then there was an outbreak of common sense at Lamar's Baton Rouge, La., HQ: Hal Kilshaw, vp governmental relations at Lamar, overruled the local office:
"The copy as presented was in compliance with our policy and we should have run it," Kilshaw told the News-Leader in a telephone interview this morning.
Kilshaw said nothing was factually incorrect about the proposed advertising message, including the fact Blunt has taken more than $500,000 in campaign contributions from the insurance industry during his 13 years representing the 7th District in Congress.
Kilshaw said politics is "something that shouldn't have been taken into consideration."
"That's not supposed to enter into our decisions," Kilshaw said. "This is pretty much standard political fare."
Note that Kilshaw agreed on one thing with his colleague:
"He has been a good friend to our industry," Kilshaw said of Blunt.
Kilshaw has to say that, because Lamar is so heavily dependent on the goodwill of elected politicians.
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